Our complaints about God's grace always sound the same: "It was good to see him in church with his son this morning. But, I can’t believe pastor let them come up to communion. And did you see? I mean, pastor's just got to know he blew half the family's savings on booze and drugs. You know what else? I heard he practically lived in one of those whorehouses when he was out on the West Coast. And what did they do when he showed up again looking like a bum? Threw a party for him! Didn’t even give him a good talking to. Not one word about what a terrible burden his behavior was for his family. Can you imagine?"
"I will never understand how she thinks she can run a successful business when she hires people to work in her apple orchard at all hours of the day, and then insists on paying them the same wage at the end of their shift regardless of how long they worked."
"Did you hear what pastor did? He picked up a man who’d been beaten and thrown into a ditch just outside town. The man didn't have insurance, so pastor paid his medical bills for him. Then pastor got him a room at the Holiday Inn. Pastor even let the man use his credit card to buy new clothes and some groceries. And you know what else? It turns out, the man is a convicted murderer out on parole. The father and uncles of the woman he murdered caught up with him and beat him near to death. Now pastor has him coming to church. Even says he’s a "good man." It’s disgusting. Someone needs to say something. Doesn't pastor know it’s an insult to everyone here for that kind of man to be in our church. It’s just not right!"
We'll chase after any kind of slavery rather than embrace the freedom to which God's grace in Christ Jesus calls us. Give us the Parable of the Prodigal and we'll promptly lose the point by preaching ourselves into the sermon. We want to turn the Parable of the Prodigal Son into a reflection on Worthy and Unworthy Confession, or on The Sin of the Elder Brother. Give us the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, and we'll imagine a lesson on the Obligation to Be Content with What You've Been Given or The Moral Consequences of Unfair Wages in the United States.
We don’t want God's grace, not really. It's too specific. It's too much about Christ Jesus and His doing for us rather than our doing for an impassive god who dwells at the edge of the Milky Way. We want the ornaments of grace - altars, pulpits, crucifixes, banners, statuary, all that stuff - just not God's unconditional grace that is delivered to us for Christ's sake.
We want a pastor, sure, but we want one who preaches a good, uplifting message every week. We want to hear the comfort of merit and demerit. We want to be shown there's at least something we can do to get into God's good graces. We want a sermon that assures us we're still, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, masters of our relationship with God. Why? Because we don’t want God's grace preached to us, especially when it's not about us at all. We demand to be the center of attention. We want to be given something, anything, but please, "spare us the insult of this free grace."
And that's what rubs us wrong about Jesus. Jesus comes to forgive sinners, not the kind-of-righteous. He comes to raise the dead, not to buy drinks for the almost-alive. Jesus comes to seek and to save the lost. He comes to raise the dead. God’s grace seeks, saves, and raises the dead, no strings attached. All that’s left for us is to believe it and enjoy the good news. Jesus never closes the door on grace for the littlest, the least, the last, the lost, and the dead.
Whether we're someone who's important or unimportant, reputable or disreputable, deserving or undeserving, successful or unsuccessful, whether our taxes are filed on time, whether we're caught up on the bills or our mortgage is paid off, in relation to God those things just don’t matter. Whatever happens, happens because Jesus simply says, “Your son is alive.” “I have come that you may have life in abundance.” “I give to you eternal life, and you will never perish, and no man will pluck you out of my hand.” "Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “It is finished.”
God's grace in Christ Jesus is the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. A rock-solid, in the flesh, raises the dead, changes stony hearts to flesh kind of grace whose Name is Jesus.
Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.